Pr. William Crackdown To Cost More Than Planned
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Prince William County's much-publicized plan to curb illegal immigration goes into effect tomorrow, facing new questions about whether it will bring the "big bang for the buck" that Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart predicts.
Nearly four months after the board approved the plan, the supervisors now realize it is going to cost more than expected without a clear way to measure its impact.
The policy requires Prince William police to check a suspect's citizenship, even in minor offenses, if they think the person might be in the country illegally. It also denies some county services to illegal immigrants.
The board learned Tuesday that it will cost Prince William $6.4 million to enforce the policy in the first year, more than twice as much as estimated. The five-year price tag is about $26 million.
"At some level, it shouldn't be surprising. We should have seen it coming," Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said of the climbing cost. "We are the national poster child for local government getting involved in immigration. Whatever we do is going to be praised. Whatever we do is going to be criticized. There's a decent chance we are going to get sued. We can't screw up."
Driving up the cost was Police Chief Charlie T. Deane's recommendation to install cameras in the county's 250 police cars to record when suspects are stopped as a way to defend against allegations of racial profiling. Installing cameras and monitoring footage will cost $3.1 million the first year.
The program also will incur higher-than-expected costs for staff overtime, jail crowding and foster-care services for children displaced from their parents. The plan requires an additional 35 police department positions over five years, including 19 in the budget year that starts July 1.
Although Prince William is implementing the policy relatively quickly, determining its effectiveness will be a challenge. "We don't have a way to measure this yet," Nohe said.
Beyond anecdotal evidence of illegal immigrants leaving Prince William, county officials might not be able to assess the program comprehensively until the University of Virginia, James Madison University and the Police Executive Research Forum review it in October 2009.
But if the measure of success is creating inhospitable conditions for illegal immigrants, proponents and opponents agree that the policy has been effective.
At a recent board meeting, county resident Alanna Almeda told supervisors that friends of her family "self-deported" a month after the resolution was approved.
"They had a $600,000 home and were paying the mortgage, but they walked away from it," she said. "This is who you have driven out of the county. These are the people you are stepping on."